What 2020’s Q4 buying behavior will tell us about the future of eCommerce

It might be easy to think that 2020 won’t serve as much of a yardstick for anything and that any “benchmarks’ that usually come out of the wealth of Q4 data should be discarded. And it’s true that COVID-19 and the changes in behavior it has forced won’t be completely replicated in future years.

That said, there are some patterns we should keep a close eye on as Q4 unfolds. Here are some metrics to watch – and what they’ll mean for the eCommerce industry going forward.

Traffic by month

One of the ways Q4 buying behavior is shifting is timing. With fewer shoppers waiting until doorbuster Black Friday sales, advertisers are offering early online promotions to get people in the buying mood. Make sure to look for Q4 reports that reveal the timing of shopping behavior. If, as expected, shoppers are in the market for gifts earlier than usual, look for ways to lock in that habit in 2021 and beyond with promotions and plenty of inventory ready as early as September.

Online engagement patterns

The shopping practice of “showrooming,” where shoppers check out items in brick-and-mortar stores and then find them for lower prices online, won’t be nearly as prevalent in 2020 since many shoppers will choose to skip the in-person experience. eCommerce merchants should close this gap by loading up their sites with high-resolution pictures, all the product specs they can think of, and more. 

Heatmap software, like Hotjar, can show you where on your web pages consumers are looking and clicking. If you pile up Q4 data showing tons of engagement with images and any interactive materials you can provide, and conversion rates increase accordingly, double down on those investments for more of your products.

eCommerce’s share of the retail pie

Around the world, COVID-19 has accelerated eCommerce’s growth in proportion to the greater retail market (check out eMarketer’s report on the eCommerce gains in Great Britain alone). After the holiday season subsides, look for Q4 data on the eCommerce industry to see the split between online and offline sales. Even after vaccines become widely available and social distancing is minimized, the increase in shoppers forced to become online-fluent in 2020 will pay big dividends for eCommerce retailers going forward.

Inventory patterns

Make sure to keep track of any inventory challenges this Q4: running low on any surprising products, experiencing issues in your supply chain, running out of stock earlier than anticipated, etc. Then assess whether those challenges might be related specifically to COVID or whether, in the case of timing, they may persist beyond 2021. If you spot patterns you suspect will persist, make sure you address them early in 2021 to set yourself up for a smoother Q4.

Good luck this holiday season!

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